Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

6/21/2015

Digital Assets After Death

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:37 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what happens when we die.

Recently, a friend of my wife’s died very suddenly and unexpectedly.  She was not, as far as anyone knows, ill in any serious way.  Nor, again, as far as anyone knows, did she have any medical condition that might lead one to expect a sudden death.  It was a very shocking surprise.
Her husband, who is also a friend of ours, was suddenly responsible for all the things she had been taking care of, including paying all the bills on-line.  Naturally, she had her email linked to all that, but, as it turns out, he didn’t have all her email passwords, because, well, who would?  I certainly don’t have all my wife’s passwords memorized, if I even know them.  Not that she keeps secrets from me, but, who can think of every system and password?  And, I have my own passwords to keep track of, which, thanks to my work, are many and not all chosen by me.  Our friends didn’t have much more in the way of “digital assets”, really, beyond email, their phones, and their Facebook account.  But, my wife and I have several websites between us.  Obviously, I have this one and my other, more personal site, JKHoffman.com.  She has her business website, The Organizing Decorator.  And, then there are the sites I’m still developing, FindMyPhorographer.com, FindMyDecorator.com and LookingForLawyers.com  Although those are still under development, we hope that they will one day be thriving businesses that will continue even if one of us were to die.
But, how?

Well, for the simple passing on of information, there are a lot of methods.  There’s the tried-and-true method of simply having the information, like a list of passwords for assorted systems, in a sealed envelope with instructions for delivery after a certain condition or date.  I’ve actually had that kind of thing with employers when I was at small companies.  Just a sealed envelope in a fire safe with the administrator password and other relevant details.  But, this relies on someone coming to find it or knowing where to look.  Also, there’s not as much control over who gets it, even if that envelope is left with someone trustworthy, like a lawyer.
Another method, that’s the higher-tech equivalent of this, is the software-based “Dead Man’s Switch”, which I wrote about back in 2009.  In addition to the resources there, now there is also the service Deadman.  The idea is all the same and based on an old idea from the train industry.  The so-called “dead man’s switch” is a device that someone must actively keep engaged or the train, or other piece of machinery, will shut off.  Here the “dead man’s switch” is just something that has to be reset by a certain time or some series of events will occur, like sending an email to one or more people with important information in it.  I used to use a bit of freeware based on this called “DMS”, which was, obviously, an abbreviation.  The software did, among other things, some encryption to protect vital information from people who might get nosy after my departure from a company, especially if that departure came as a surprise to me.  That worked great until I got cancer and was suddenly hospitalized and unable to reset the timer!  Whoops!  The creator is no longer supporting the software, and it has some obvious dangers, but you can still download it here.  There is a decryption tool, but, it may be best not to use that at all.  Also, I’m not entirely sure how well it will work on Windows 7 or newer machines.  It’s pretty old.
If you’re a WordPress blogger, you can try the Next of Kin plugin, which sends out an email per your configuration if you don’t log into your blog in a certain amount of time.  It hasn’t been updated too recently, but it is more up-to-date than the DMS software and runs on what is hopefully a more reliable system than your desktop, at least in the long-run.
(Of course, if you’re a spy or a whistle-blower of some kind, these services and software packages have other uses!)

So, what might one need to pass on to the living once we have passed?
Besides the previously mentioned email passwords and banking access passwords, there may be website and web hosting accounts and passwords, social media accounts and passwords like Twitter and Facebook, PINs for your ATM, credit cards and home alarm, device passwords for phones, laptops and desktops, and password storage software, if you use any.
Honestly, this list can go on and on in our connected world.  A site called Tuts+ ran a two-part series about this very subject and I highly recommend that if you want to think through all the things that you may need to transfer access to after one’s passing.  The first article, Preparing Your Digital Assets For Your Eventual Death, has a lot of food for thought.  The author, like me, knew someone who lost their spouse and was confronted with the sudden loss of a spouse, which is what inspired his writing of the articles.  However, it took on a much more personal sense of urgency when, after starting the articles, he was diagnosed with a, thankfully, operable brain tumor.  And, as a cancer survivor, I can tell you that this is not the first time these issues have been on my mind.

If you have a self-hosted blog, like this one, or another kind of website, you have an additional set of challenges in addition to the normal ones that pretty much everyone faces today in our digital world.  First of all, there’s the domain name.  Now, you can register that somewhere for an extended period of time.  The last I checked, though, ten years is the longest one can pre-pay for that service.  Most registrars have an auto-renew feature, as long as you have a good credit card listed in the payment section.  Or, have it linked to a PayPal account that has funds in it.  In theory, web-hosting can work in a similar fashion.  In fact, the popular and well-known registrar GoDaddy has hosting options as well, so, if this is a real concern, it may be possible to achieve both goals at a single vendor.
But, of course, the question ultimately becomes one of how reliable in the long-term any of these companies are or may be.  Do you want to host your content for 100 years after your death?  The internet itself hasn’t been around that long yet, so who knows what any of this digital landscape will look like that far into the future?  Jeff Reifman talks about these issues in greater depth in the second of his articles at Tuts+, Hosting Your Website After Death.  It’s an on-going series and I recommend that you check it out if you have any interest in these topics at all.

 


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
A real hero is someone who's afraid, but does the right thing anyway.

1/25/2011

Dealing With Death

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:14 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

No, not the idea, but the actual event.

Two stories ran recently about dealing with the parts of us left behind after death.
First a story about a “better” coffin that screws into the ground.  Okay, I’ll grant you, this is less serious than morbidly amusing to me.  Still, I do like the idea of having a low-cost disposal method for what I’ll leave behind once I “shuffle off this mortal coil”.  That it screws into the ground, just tickled me.
And, for anyone keeping track, I’d just as soon be cremated and scattered to the Four Winds where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan just outside the Loop.  Seriously.

The second two were a little more serious.  Two stories about social media applications dealing with the accounts of the dead and, more recently, one from the New York Times Magazine, online, of course.
Back before everyone was on the web all the time, I used to have an envelope that was labeled “Open upon my death or disappearance”.  Seriously!  I used to keep it tucked under my keyboard.  I had one at work, too, for those folks, though that was in a safe.  In each envelope was a series of usernames and passwords for people to use to get access to my accounts should I go missing, or should something happen to me that left me incapacitated or dead.  I’m honestly not sure if anyone knew about the one under my keyboard, but I figured it would have turned up when someone cleaned up after me.  So, basically, I was giving someone who survived me access to my e-mail and other, similar accounts.
I got rid of that sometime shortly before the divorce, for some obvious reasons.

Now, though, there are so many accounts and websites and blogs and such that I’m not sure I could easily list them all.  And, frankly, who would bother to pay for my website?  Who would care enough to maintain an archive of this blog, for instance?  I don’t have a huge readership, though you are a pretty loyal lot, so I don’t expect anyone to really want to preserve what I have here.
How many of you have though about what will happen to your blogs and websites and so on when you die?  What about if you were to die suddenly from, oh, say, cancer?  What then?  If I went missing for a month, would anyone notice here?
Well, for WordPress blogs, there’s a plugin called Next Of Kin that might help, a little.  You can set it to post some message to your blog if you fail to login to your blog for a set amount of time.  And, just to be sure, it will send you a reminder or warning e-mail to check and make sure that you haven’t just forgotten to visit your blog.  It’s far from enough to take care of all of your digital needs after death, but it is a pretty good start!

So, what have you all got setup in case of your untimely death?  Does anyone know your passwords?  Have you given anyone instructions on what to post to Facebook or Twitter after you’ve gone?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"We cannot be sure that we have something worth living for unless we are ready to die for it."
   --Eric Hoffer

11/17/2008

Cancer’s Lessons

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:50 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Through a circuitous route, I stumbled across an article by Tony Snow, a speech writer and media consultant for President George H. W. Bush.

Mr. Snow died on July 12, 2008, after fighting cancer, twice. Before he passed away, however, he wrote this article for Christianity Today, titled Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings. Go, read the article, then, if you can stomach some more, come back and I’ll share with you some of my thoughts on slow-dancing with death for the better part of a year.

We humans spend a lot of time worrying about death. Perhaps not on an individual basis, but in the aggregate, we spend a lot of time trying to avoid death, to hide from it, to deny it. When I was diagnosed with cancer almost two years ago, I could no longer hide from it or feel myself into thinking that it was a long way off. It could be tomorrow, next week, months from now, or years, but I’m going to die. In fact, we all are, sooner or later. I’ve heard it said that death is the one thing we all have in common. None of use make it out of here alive.
So, what does that mean? On a practical level, what does it mean to know that I’m going to die? It means that every moment is borrowed time. Every experience, no matter how painful or uncomfortable, is an opportunity to learn something, about myself, about my world or about my God. Frankly, it’s hard to put into words. I think that only someone who’s been close to death really gets it deep down in the bones where words don’t quite reach. Because, you see, when I was there, when I was right close to taking my last breath, I was convinced that it wasn’t quite time yet. Only later, when I’d had a chance to think about it did I truly understand how close I’d come to being gone. When I was there, when the Angel of Death had me in that cold, bony bear-hug, it was the farthest thing from my mind. Then, all I could think about was living. All I could think about was seeing people I missed, doing things that I wanted to do. Maybe trying to correct a few of the mistakes I’d made along the way and, hopefully, God willing, have time enough to take another shot at some of those things and do ’em right this time around.
Naturally, when I was first diagnosed, I was quite upset. I felt cheated, like God owed me so many more years of life and taking that away from me was unfair. That, however, didn’t last nearly as long as I would have thought.

In another article on MSN, I read “Learning you have cancer and going through treatment can dramatically affect a person’s life. Cancer can be isolating, and depression affects up to 38 percent of cancer patients.” My thought when I read that was, “No shit”. Who can understand something like this? How can you explain it? A fellow cancer survivor, and a good friend of mine, talked about going to the doctor after getting diagnosed to “…see how badly my body had betrayed me.” And, that, as much as anything, sums up that weird feeling of loss and surprise and gut-checking impact when the diagnosis is made, then confirmed. It knocks you off your emotional feet, stalls your motivational momentum, and kicks you in your spiritual nut-sack. Suddenly, every uncomfortable moment becomes more precious than any commodity you’ve ever owned. You find yourself suddenly willing to trade any possession, no matter how precious, for a just a few more minutes in the embrace of an old friend, or the bed of an old lover. Some, like me, may find themselves longing to know the mind of God, but without the big rush to look Him in the eye to ask the questions.
It’s funny, when I think of it now, how many times I’ve contemplated killing myself over the years. Well, it’s funny in light of how many radioactive enemas I’ve had, and how much personal dignity I’ve traded, all in the effort to squeeze a few more minutes out of this drab, pre-processed world of ours. Not too many years before my diagnosis, I was at one of those points. It’d been a rough year, or two or three, and I thought I was done, finally. But, God had a few lessons left to teach me, a few things for me, perhaps, to teach someone else, so I’m still here, flailing about for words to express the unexpressible.

In the end, what cancer taught me was something I thought I’d learned from that old poet, Warren Zevon, several years before, when he was dying of cancer. It was a quote, from his last live TV appearance on the David Letterman Show that appeared on the VH1 retrospective, which I watched again while I wrote the last bit of this post. After long last, I finally understand just how much to enjoy every sandwich.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Every calling is great when greatly pursued."
   --Oliver Wendell Holmes

9/22/2008

Less is More – Hurricane Ike Followup

Filed under: Apple,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:57 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Hurricane Ike may not be over for a lot of people, but I’m thinking about how I should change my life in response to what happened.

I don’t mean that I’m scarred for life or that I have post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result or anything so melodramatic as that, but this slap on the butt from Mother Nature has made me think.  It’s made me think about what I need, what I want and how I spend my time.  As I’m sure many have found this week, we need far, far less than we think we do.  In many ways, I got along just fine without power.  Oh, maybe I cooked a bit more meat and ate a bit more in general than usual, but I got to read more and sleep more than I usually do.  And, at this point, I’ve gone without cable long enough that I’m starting to wonder why I still keep it.  I mean, I say that I have it for the History Channel and Discovery and IFC and the Sci-Fi Channel, but I’m not sure that’s really true anymore.  For one thing, I haven’t watched a whole program on either the History Channel or Discovery without some kind of interruption in so long I can’t remember.  And, honestly, most of the movies I watch on IFC are available through Netflix anyway.  And, really, I’ve gotten so tired of what the Science-Fiction Channel has become – the Ghost Buster Channel or the Cryptozoology Channel or something worse.  So, why do I hold onto this video pacifier?  Have I gotten so afraid of peace and quiet and, possibly, even my own thoughts that I have to keep background noise going all the time?

For the longest time, I’ve worried that I suckle at the glass teat so long that I would starve without it.  And, yet, it’s a love/hate relationship we have.  I feel somewhat compelled to watch it, but, at the same time, I feel like it sucks so much of my productive time away from me that I’d be better off without it.  If I spent half the time I wasted watching television cleaning my house, or re-working my home network, or writing, well, I’d probably be famous by now.  You know what I did most of last weekend?  I read.  Yeah, I ended up reading two entire books last weekend and almost half that time was spent reading by flashlight!  So, without any of the “conveniences” of modern, high-tech life, I was more productive and more rested than I am when I’m totally plugged-in and choking on information over-load.  But, of course, that’s not a new theme, is it?  I mean, people have been telling us that for a long time now, right?  How we should un-plug and tap into our full attention and focus.  I have to admit, though, that, while I heard that and thought I understood the principle, I’ve never tried to put it into practice or had an opportunity like this forced on me.  Now, I have.

So, here’s what I’m thinking.  I’m thinking that what I need to do is cancel cable.  I need to take that roughly $100 a month and save it.  When I have enough, I’m going to buy all the bits and pieces for a Linux-based multimedia computer.  Something that can rip and burn DVDs, that has a Dolby-capable sound card worthy of a home theater system, that has a high-quality video card with HDMI output I can hook up to my HDTV, that has a remote and a wireless keyboard and mouse, and, maybe, that has a television decoder on it.  Obviously, it’ll need a truckload of hard drive storage and the maximum amount of RAM.  Oh, and a nice, high-speed connection to the network so I can grab stuff from YouTube and other video sites, not to mention weather data in hurricane season and, possibly, to get to Netflix for “instant” movies, too.  It actually won’t be all that expensive, and probably not as time-consuming to create as has seemed to me in the past.  Besides, I know people have done similar things before so there’s got to be a HowTo on it out there somewhere.  And, I’m equally sure that someone has given this enough thought that I won’t have to figure out which distro is best, either!  Ha!  Sometimes not being on the cutting edge can, in fact, work to one’s advantage!

But, beyond all that, I hope that having fewer distractions, or at least taking a tighter rein on my regular distractions, will help me focus more on writing, too.  Ironically, saving money by canceling cable may also enable me to earn more money by writing fiction, like I’ve always said I wanted to do!  How funny would that be!
That shift is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  I guess more so since doing Habitat for Humanity a couple weekends ago, or maybe even as far back as when I was told my lymphoma was in remission.  I want to be less of a consumer and more of a producer.  I want to make more than I use, to contribute more than I take.  Right now, today, I don’t think that’s true, but I think I can change that.  More importantly, I know, deep in my bones, down in that place that even Death himself can’t touch, that I want to make that change.  I need to make that change, to give more than I get.
I’ve dodged so many theoretical bullets and gotten so many second chances that, were I superstitious, I’d say it was some force, some being, some power in the Universe, trying to tell me something.  As if God Himself were nudging me in a direction, toward the light, toward the positive.  Some of you reading this may not believe in that, and that’s okay with me, but I know something has been working for my personal good, even amidst the danger, sorrow and tragedy, to keep me safe and to keep me coming out okay.  And, no matter what you believe, I know that whatever that force or power is, call it God if you wish, that energy wants me to work toward the good of others with whatever meager skill and talent I may feel I possess.

So, what does it all mean?
Hell if I know.  All I know is that right now, the way I live my life, while not damaging to anyone else, it’s not worth much to me, either.  I’m just coasting.  Gliding through life on the energy of others or just circumstances.  I want to live a life worth living, a life worth the efforts M. D. Anderson spent trying to keep going.  To do that, I need to change.  Not much, really, just a little.  The difference between giving more than I take is just a hair’s breadth.
But, that small margin makes all the difference in the world.

4/8/2008

Blogging can kill you?

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:05 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I think I smell a little hyperbole.

Apparently, the New York Times ran a story about how bloggers are such freakish, obsessive people who simply can’t stand to be away from their computer, even for sleep, that all the stress from blogging can actually cause our demise. Frankly, even if I were doing this professionally, I think that’s taking it too far. An article on Slate references statistics that clearly show there are far more stressful, harmful jobs than blogging. Or, really, anything white collar. And, Larry Dignan, a professional blogger for ZDNet, who was interviewed for the NYT story, clearly has other opinions about the “hazards” of blogging. (His interview, which disagreed with the sensationalist story, was not used.)

But, blogging is still hot. It’s still cool. Only, now, the press has to make some fear-based story around it to sell papers. So, now, apparently, blogging can kill you.
Film at eleven.

1/30/2003

Deadly Computers!

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:59 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Sitting in front of your computer can kill you!

Well, sitting in front of your computer for extended periods of time can possibly cause blood clots, which can possibly kill you. Of course, the truth is never quite as interesting as a sensationalist title, eh?
Here’s the story at The Australian.


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